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Conundrums of Motivation

March 31, 2015 1 comment

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. The idiom is classic and its accuracy profound. By what method can one make another do an action? For what purpose does one choose to activate the mind? As an instructor, this challenge of motivation remains the ever-impossible problem to solve. Can the motivational riddle be solved?

Many have tried: incentives such as food and cash have been attempted with diminishing returns. Are external motivators more powerful? The avoidance of the threat certainly works for students whose parents directly influence their performance in school. But are these techniques effective in developing life long learners?

Unfortunately the problem of motivation (seemingly its deficiency and not its excess) has existed forever. For what purpose should I do this thing? The “I” remains the factor. Only when it matters does the individual act. Is it culture that determines the value of an action? Fear might play a part and likewise motivations and the avoidance of punishment. And yet for educators around the world what legitimate action can be taken to inspire another to act. One can only do so much and ultimately the student and his or her cognition remain the single driving force between inaction and the action.

Narrative Nets

March 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Given unknown circumstances there is often a need to create details. Observe an individual standing by the side of the road with a sign requesting help. What are the details of this person’s story? Why are we not in this sad position, asking the anonymous public for assistance. One might wonder why its this person and not himself in this position? What actions or factors of my existence have delivered me to a place where such humiliations are avoidable?

To fill in missing details strings both from curiosity and panic. Charged with the countless questions born from these observations, one must wonder both why it exists and what protects himself from this existence. We are fearful of such calamities and seek out reasons to justify our sense of security. How close are we to such a life? Are we so secure that begging for money by the side of the road is above us? Who am I to feel its tragic? Could I handle such a deed if my children were in need?

One calming source of answers is delusion. Create the details for the person: make a back story and justify the differences. Did the person commit a crime? Is it a scam that they are playing? Creating these lies is less about the individual observed and more about us as the observer. A certain sense of safety comes from thinking their plight comes from action. If they’ve done something wrong we can feel that by acting correctly and protecting ourselves we’ll never live their life. Of course these are just lies and we cannot know what protects us from the tragedy. From what source do our privileges stem? Mere resources that can disappear by whims. Nothing is for certain and the resources from which we build a life are profoundly vulnerable. Are we merely our paycheck? Does our life come less from who we are and more from what our income does allow? Are our dreams framed in income brackets? For many the difference between luxury and destitution are but weeks without a paycheck.

Loss on Higher Levels

February 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Is the death of someone talented more tragic? The “critically-acclaimed actor” is a common start for widely read obituaries. Lost at her prime stage of talent, her death comes with both reminders of the past and musings for the future. Reflecting on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Slate’s Dana Stevens reflected her regret that Seymour would never again be the focus of a Paul Thomas Anderson film. She mourned the loss of an artistic collaboration in the making.

All deaths are tragic, but with the death of public figures we experience death together. Though we never meet Celebrity X, we see his films and spend hours with his work. From this we experience the death of these figures in unique and novel ways. These are not our family members, but they matter and we know them a some deeper, human level. Is it strange that many spend more hours watching the work of a celebrity than they do with neighbors living just a house away.

The “w0rk” of a selective group of people is experienced by the world. The actor’s personality becomes product and, from sea to sea and country to country, a world experiences the work. Despite cultural differences and political turmoil an actor’s work can be considered by anyone. Herein lies another great power of art: where politics creates boundaries and pain and suffering determine daily life a work of art can breach all borders.

Each individual possesses a unique talent. Whether he or she locates and develops this talent depends on a variety of factors. Is everyone a Shakespeare or Mozart? Perhaps they are if given the right talent, time and focus. Though all have certain skill sets few are provided with the bundled supplements to find its worth. How sad is it that millions go without even knowing of their skill? And yet, despite these millions left unaware the select few who realize their talents often work to create things that forever change the world for everyone.

This is where the greater tragedy comes in. In losing an individual who was aware of his or her talent we lose this precious item of development. For the few who can break through and realize their skills it is their duty to follow it through. So often these breakthroughs come with an inability to cope. Some have argue that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting skills were closely tied to his ability to sense human experience. Such sensitivity, they claim, left him vulnerable and unable to cope. The same has been argued for poets whose untimely deaths suggests too sensitive a demeanor or some lacking tool to separate skill with life experience.

Is the death of genius more tragic? Indeed it is but not just for the human soul we lose.

Artistic Picks

December 23, 2013 Leave a comment

To assert one’s identity is to re-assert and codify identity politics. Why was one selected for this position? What qualifications garnered the individual with the opportunity? In moments of competition literally person versus people- the factors that are used to make a decision are more important than the decision itself. Yes, the ways you decide are far more important than what you decide.

To provide one with an opportunity on the basis of identity is to disregard or discount skills unrelated to identity. A great artist is judged not by background, heritage or culture; instead, it is the work itself that persists through the ages. Art outlasts the artist. Contemporary culture has moments where background, heritage, or culture trump artistic skill. In these situations the artist’s work is not the major focus; instead, we ask where did she come from? Who or what does she love? Or, worse yet, how can her selection say something about who we are?

All decisions are expressions of the deciders. President George H.W. Bush is often quoted as saying he “is the decider” when challenged that his vice president Dick Cheney was actually in charge. We treasure our authority and use it explain who we are. In selecting someone we express a preference for perspective. Selections are symbols and in decisions where people are involved (i.e., artistic nomination) symbolic stand-ins for our beliefs.

Nominations of artists are particularly interesting on a meta level. Artists often work with symbols and manipulate meaning. One who nominates an artist for a position is manipulating symbolic manipulators to manipulate a symbol.

Impossible to Luddite

November 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Technological change comes fast. Consider the number of phone numbers you held in your memory a decade ago. Was it more? How has GPS affected your ability to give directions. Many often respond with “Do you have GPS?” when asked to give directions. Technology changes who we are and how we live.

But what of those who loathe technology and instead desire “good old days”? Is anyone capable of existing in a world divorced of technology? Technology is everywhere and impossible to avoid. From grocery stores to libraries every location in society has been affected by technology. One cannot be a Luddite now.

Perhaps most profound about technological change is this inability to avoid it. We need not own technology to be affected. Pew reported in 2013 that just 56% of Americans have smart phones. What of that 44%- are they floundering alone and lost in their world without a data plan and killer apps? Does the user of the “dumb phone” flounder in a world without GPS and data plans? Of course not. Technological change is inherent and profound.

Replicating Symbol Souls

July 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Public figures deemed celebrities often shed humanity and take on symbolic significance. Today’s celebrity is never a flesh-and-bone human being. Never do we hear of physical illnesses or the actual details of a celebrity’s life. Instead it is only in the dramatic physical failures: the tabloid wrought tales of debauchery and rehab induced recovery that follows afterwards.

In giving birth the symbol becomes a vector for another human form. Our sign creates another who both illustrates and alters the creator. The celebrity mother transacts with the new-born child to make another symbol. A symbol makes a symbol.

Since celebrities exist on the basis of the media, it is this very force that promulgates the symbolic status from mother to child. Carried from the one to the other, this process of celebrity connection via biological connection adds a new layer to the reproduction process. Does the birth alter the symbol to suggest a more humble form whose need to reproduce like “the rest of us” advance the ability to relate to the figure? Some celebrities seem determined to re-establish their distance by using strange names. The unique baby name functions both to establish a unique identity and variable existence.

In giving the birth the celebrity advances his or her existence on both symbolic and biologic fields. Birthing like the general public might suggest commonality and increase understanding but many seem obsessed with adding distance. The use of strange names and the provision of extraordinary benefits works to re-establish the celebrity status for the celebrity mother. Via her indulgence she establishes again her latent differences and suggests to all who view her that indeed she’s something different.

Towards A Larger Something

July 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Do all humans need something larger to believe in? Where religion falls victim to doubt and atheism takes hold the individual simply replaces one faith with another. It is often suggested that where the religious take confidence in figures like Christ, Moses and Mohammed the atheist community forms similar connects to Darwin, Marx and Shakespeare. In each “great man” the follower invests hope and the search for purpose. If every human needs guidance in “how to live” where might one find a greater sense of purpose beyond these larger figures? Is it possible to live beyond this need for something more? Is a greater power the only real source of sense in a life of seeming futility?

Some might question the importance of these important figures. Surely Shakespeare can be respected, but to serve as a God-like smacks of exaggeration. How might Darwin play a religious like role for the non-religious? When one’s ideas become foundational to existence than these powerful roles take hold. As Jesus framed a model for existence, Darwin has come to represent a way of thinking and seeing the world. The movement from basic theories to broad, life-guiding theories transcends the individual to a religious figure. The prophet is one who provides profound insight in a world of endless confusion.

What of the events that celebrate common bonds and aim to establish greater sense of community? Is the church service replaced by conventions or concerts? Does not one find common bonds with fellow human beings at the rock concert? The similarities are striking if one considers forms of dress, directions of focus and use of music. One might find it difficult to delineate where the differences stand and where the music concert inspired the church service and vice versa. Both have common goals and common means to a success. Certainly both events serve the purpose of bringing seemingly diverse people together for a common goal. No matter the ends of these events, the means to group cohesion are very similar. All humans seem determined to find a greater sense of purpose and seek it out in varied forms and places.

Utility of Choices

June 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Just as our decisions reflect back on who we are, the utility of these choices has suggestive power. We learn more about who we are when we consider what we purchase and the reasons beyond our thinking. In Fight Club, Brad Pitt’s character admonishes us by saying “You are not your fucking khakis,” but how accurate is this statement? Are we not, in some minor sense, our purchases?

Everything we buy exists in multiple domains. A pair of Dockers khakis are at once khakis and symbols of our culture, perceived social status and the characterization of ourselves we wish to present to the world. Certainly the individual wearing a pair of khakis is seeking to suggest something different from an individual wearing frayed jeans. We benefit in our ability to use these varied symbols as we need to: everyone can wear khakis or jeans and do so on the basis of what the moment demands.

It is in this deployment of choice that we can learn so much. If each of us can posses the varied means of communication than it is in the application and selection that the real communication takes place. What pants does he wear and when? Pants are just one example of this ability to communicate. Similar options exist in what we eat, where we live and even what we choose to view on television. All aspects of life come with options and it is in the selection that the individual is revealed.

A Super Mario Generation

June 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Are we living in a Super Mario moment? Soldiers, contractors and hackers release data and breach codes of conduct out of a “sense of duty.” Discarding “codes of honor” for the cause of information freedom, they discard one set of abstractions for another. “Information wants to be free!” they say. But at what point does this swapping of abstraction read less an act of patriotism and more an act of misguided motivation.

The story of the lone actor casting himself against an insurmountable force is a common plot line of many hacker/leaker stories. One figure with access to secret information feels a need to reveal the secret detail. Doing so violates his/her code of honor but such violations are seen as justified for the benefit of the public. The lone actor sacrifices himself for the better good: throwing it all away for our benefit of knowing.

In these quests of individualism we see a lone actor working against a far stronger enemy. The hero works to liberate a perceived purity being held by perceived tyranny. This game of abstraction reads well in certain lights. The minor hero works despite the odds and is our classic underdog. And yet, what source for this narrative can be trace to this generation? Is this a generation of Super Mario brothers whose quest against the American government mimes Mario beating Bowser?

Who is the Princess here? Are we so distorted that abstract concepts like freedom of information, the right to keep private data or other perceived ethical rights recently developed by technology at play? Has this generation fallen so far into post-modern malaise that the great causes are less about protecting the innocent and more the rights to hide your photos or keep your secret chats a secret?

Of course there is a great importance to the privacy of data. Users must be made aware of how their information is used and be provided with ways to opt-out or function without the data being collected. Knowledge is power and if once enabled he/she chooses to provide this data for the benefit of free software so be it. Perhaps the market for more secret data via paid software can develop from this world.

What remains different though is this data deemed secret. If provided with access to secret information it remains a duty to protect it. Do you object? Do you feel its collection is a violation of the law? So be it, but the worst action is to release it. A fool is one who senses a hole in the dam and decides it best to blow it all away. A bad system needs fixing, not destruction. A real hero works to resolve a conflict. See a hole? Fix it! Do you sense a violation of privacy laws? Then leave with honor and work to gain real access to the avenues of change. Become a leader and be a fix.

Human Tool Reflections

March 23, 2013 Leave a comment

That which we use defines us. In our tools we see both need and solution. Hold a hammer and support within your hand a remnant of a problem solved. What can be learned from our tools? Do we see our priorities in our devices? It is our selections that tell the story. Preference refers to selection and the process by which need became desire and desire became reality.

The sense of “choice” and “taste” comes more from popular notions of selection and less from actual quality. What is a “choice wine” but one that has been selected by another. Does the expert palette serve the general tongue? Expertise and specialty does not suggest the ability to provide a greater experience by all. In one’s acute senses there lies little beyond a personal skill. Just because you can taste the difference doesn’t mean that I can.

What can be learned from our choices? Does a preference for a certain brand suggest some deeper need? Might one’s avoidance of a brand suggest an attitude of belief? One recent development in consumer behavior is a consideration of a company’s ethics. Many of today’s consumers happily choose a sub-part product if its competitor’s ethics are less than desirable. Bad actions and cruel policy tarnishes even the greatest product.

Social policy is now connected to consumer behavior and as tools reflect who we are so to does the expressions that surround it. Now it is less what type of hammer but what we do with it. You might make a great chicken sandwich but if your policy on same-sex marriage offends me I’ll go elsewhere. I like your discounted craft supplies but your attitudes just put me off. Yes, your products are amazing but the way you make them makes me sick.

Today’s better product is measured less in terms of quality of production and more in the who and what the surrounds the device. Bad policy and action is far more powerful than great innovation.

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